Wellington Essentials, Morning, Noon and Night
Called the world’s ‘coolest little capital’ Wellington is known for its vibrant arts scene, world class café and restaurant culture, and active outdoor lifestyle.
Set around an attractive waterfront, you’ll be hard pressed to find a city in the world that’s easier to get around. Wellington enjoys more cafes, bars and restaurants per capita than New York City, and its coffee and craft beer producers are internationally recognised. A creative, cosmopolitan city, Wellington combines the sophistication of a capital with the warmth and personality of a village.
There’s so much to see and do here, so to get you started, here are some suggestions:
Join in the festivities with The Summer of Pinot and Pinot Palooza
From Friday 27 January, grab your ‘Pinot Passport’ from any of the participating establishments (see link above) and simply purchase a glass of pinot noir to collect a stamp. Collect at least three stamps to complete your passport to go into the draw to the ultimate wine cellar starter package.
On Monday 30 January, Wellington City Waterfront will be transformed into a Pinot Pavilion where 117 of New Zealand’s best Pinot Noir producers will congregate to show their wines to the general public for ‘Pinot Palooza’.
Early morning: Explore Wellington’s natural beauty
Situated on a beautiful harbour, surrounded by rolling hills, Wellington is a city on nature’s doorstep. If it’s nice day, we recommend exploring our blue waters, green hills, and native wildlife.
Blessed with a beautiful natural harbour the Wellington waterfront is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Many activities are based around the waterfront from harbour cruises, strolling from Queens Wharf to Oriental Bay, and swimming at the golden sand beach to rollerblading and rock-climbing for the more adventurous. Many prefer to grab a coffee or gelato and sit back and enjoy beautiful views of the Wellington Harbour and cityscape.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the city centre, this popular, golden sand beach is a top spot for a bit of walking, cycling or people watching. This popular bay is also home to some of the swankiest real estate in the city, and some of the city’s top eateries, ranging from a cafe on a tugboat and a retro fondue cafe, to fine-dining establishment Whitebait. It’s a safe swimming spot for families, and during summer it hosts sporting events like beach volleyball and football.
Mount Victoria Lookout
Head to the Mount Victoria lookout where you can see Wellington city, the Hutt Valley and Cook Strait. There is a parking area and plenty of spots to sit down and take in the beautiful scenery. There are several routes you can take up Mount Victoria. Most of them will lead you through beautiful bush and a pine forest before reaching the peak. One of the best places to start the walk is from the park at the top of Majoribanks Street.
:: The walk up Mount Victoria to the lookout takes you through a forest environment on unpaved, sloped paths. Please be aware of your surroundings and wear footwear and clothing appropriate for outdoor pursuits. Follow all signage and stick to the paths. Only attempt this walk if you have a reasonable level of fitness as it involves an unphill walk of around 30 minutes.
Mid-morning: Grab your caffeine hit
Iconic Caffe L’affare is Wellington’s original cafe and coffee roastery. The flagship café on College Street is a compulsory stop for coffee aficionados worth their salt. L’affare is loved for its fresh counter eats, all-day breakfast menu and delicious a la carte lunches.
Customs Brew Bar
Customs is Coffee Supreme’s flagship hospitality location in Wellington and is a centre for what’s current in the world of specialty coffee. Customs offers a range of coffees to drink as well as roasted coffee and brew equipment for the home or the office. Modelled off a mid-century American modern domestic kitchen, Customs provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
The Flight Hangar on Dixon Street is a specialty roaster and café serving only ethically-traded single-origin coffee. Flight specialise in non-pressurised brewing methods, so now is the time to indulge in cold drip, Chemex, Aeropress, siphon or good old filter. Each coffee comes with tasting notes to help drinkers get the full experience from their cup of coffee. Flight serves delicious food all day long (the mac and cheese is pretty incredible) and quirky cocktails in the evenings.
Havana is not just another roasting company. In 1990, they designed and built a fluid-bed, hot air roaster that runs on electricity. Their method is eco-friendly, fast, resulting in cleaner, sweeter tasting coffee. Many of Wellington’s top cafes stock Havana coffee, and their on-site shop, café and tasting room mean a caffeine fix is never far away.
Late morning: Visit Te Papa or Weta Workshop
You’ll find plenty to ignite your imagination here in New Zealand’s culture capital. It’s a place packed full of the surprising, the creative and the inspirational.
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Visit Te Papa and experience New Zealand in one building at this bold and innovative museum. Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum, where you can explore the great stories of this fascinating land and the people who live there. Recently named in Lonely Planet’s top 500 places on the planet, the past, present and future are exhibited here in provocative, challenging and entertaining ways. Be sure to pop in to the Te Papa Store for high-quality souvenirs, books, clothing, jewellery, and treasures.
Weta Studio Tour
Join the Weta Workshop crew on an exclusive behind-the-scenes Weta Cave Workshop Tour to see the authentic practical effects created for The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, District 9, Elysium, and more, or visit the Thunderbirds Are Go Behind-the-Scenes Experience to see an authentic shooting stage and discover the Weta Workshop models and miniatures behind the popular TV series.
Lunch: Check-out one of these delicious eateries
Prefab is an all in one eatery, coffee roastery, community hub, events facility and showcase for New Zealand design. Prefab has a fresh and unpretentious approach to daytime dining, from abandoning cabinet food in favour of fresh from the kitchen fare to free sparkling water and bottomless single origin filter coffee. The ACME & CO breads and bakery items are baked and served warm from the Prefab oven throughout the day.
Loretta is the sister restaurant and café to Floriditas. A casual but smart eatery that serves delicious food with lots of vegetables and grains. This new eatery to Wellington has already been name-checked in a piece by Australian Vogue which chronicled the hippest places in the capital. It’s also picked up a few top architecture awards, including New Zealand’s best hospitality interior, for it’s design. The Cuba Street space is earthy, practical and has a coolness that doesn’t rely on bells and whistles. Pale timbers and Thonet furniture decorate the room but the star of the show is the pottery by Wellingtonian Paul Melser (he made the tableware too) which lines one wall.
Situated on the ground floor of the City Gallery Wellington, Nikau Café serves simple, stylish and authentic food, using the best ingredients. The small menu changes often and features seasonal, local and organic produce where possible.
This much-anticipated eatery showcases wood-fired cooking, local ingredients, natural wine and craft beers. Charley Noble is a haven for lovers of both seafood and meat. The seafood bar has a choice of freshly shucked oysters and diamond shell clams, along with crudo kingfish, tuna & salmon, ceviche and house gin-cured salmon. The Zesti wood fired char grill and rotisserie (the first of its kind in New Zealand) serves up organic cuts of aged, pasture fed and grain fed beef.
Poneke is one of Wellington’s newest restaurants, located in the ultra-modern Clyde Quay Wharf complex. This light and airy space features a menu designed by legendary restauranteur Martin Bosley, coffee by Wellington institution Mojo, and a selection of local wines and beers. The atmosphere is elegant yet relaxed. Share a selection small plates with friends or order large ones to enjoy all by yourself, and don’t forget dessert.
After lunch: Take a look around the shops
From Cuba Street’s vintage vaults to Lambton Quay’s contemporary collections, Wellington has an array of shopping experiences to suit any style whether elegant, eclectic or a bit of both. Only a 20-minute walk from one end of the style mile to the other leaves plenty of time for exploring Wellington’s department stores, new boutiques and hidden gems. Here are a few of our favourites:
If you’re looking for a world-class department store experience, look no further than the brand new David Jones in the heart of Wellington’s Lambton Quay. With an exclusive collection of New Zealand, Australian and international brands including Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Valentino and Saint Laurent, David Jones is the epitome of elegance.
Precinct 35 offers much more than just the items on the shelves. It provides a welcome respite from the mass produced, impersonal and disposable. It’s also a space for the community, to get together and catch up sharing the space with local coffeehouse Milkcrate.
Caughley combines luxury essentials and streetwear to deliver ageless fashion. With 28 different labels from New Zealand to New York and beyond, every piece is handpicked by owner Rachael Caughley.
Homeware and accessories store, Let Liv, has an emphasis on clean Scandinavian style design and a minimalist approach to life. There’s some seriously beautiful stuff in this shop. Super cool cushions and stylish trestle tables sit alongside ceramic plates (so beautiful you’ll probably prefer not to eat off them).
Taxidermied creatures with their beady eyes and frozen stance cover every surface that isn’t already cluttered with curios like old fashioned fold-up wooden rulers, gold embossed packs of playing cards, or delicious flavoured toothpaste from Florence, Italy.
Mid-afternoon: Explore Hannahs Laneway’s boutique kitchens
Explore Hannahs Laneway and see why it’s been dubbed the ‘world’s tastiest laneway’. This cosy culinary hub is home to bakers, roasters, grinders, brewers, chocolatiers, pizza slingers and soda crafters, who work collaboratively together to bring life to a former industrial quarter. Some of the boutique kitchens you’ll find in the laneway include the Wellington Chocolate Factory, Six Barrel Soda, and Leeds Street Bakery.
Early evening: Try a local brew at one of Wellington’s craft beer bars
Wellington has a growing number of bars that specialise in serving quality craft beers. The local brews are front and centre, but you can also taste distinctive beers made by independent micro-breweries from New Zealand and around the world.
Here are a few of our favourites:
This zany little craft beer bar, tucked away down Leeds Street, is decorated largely from recycled materials, with buckets for lampshades and awnings made from old skis. Golding’s Free Dive is a free house, meaning they can put anything they like on tap. With just six taps and one hand-pull, beers are swapped out often so breweries from all over New Zealand can get their turn. Patrons can also order pizza from nearby Pizza Pomodoro and have it delivered to their table while they drink.
Home of Choice Bros Brewery and Karamu coffee, HUSK is an eatery, bar, brewery and coffee roastery located down a private alley off Ghuznee Street, Wellington. The open layout allows guests to enjoy the food & brews produced on site whilst watching the production happen in front of them.
Premium beer and quality food are literally made for each other. With forty beer taps, a top-flight kitchen crew, friendly staff and a brewery on the premises, Fork & Brewer’s mission is to take Wellington’s already awesome beer culture to an entire other level.
Garage Project has been described in the media as the ‘darling of the craft beer scene’ and by punters as ‘rock stars’. The charm of Garage Project is their bravery in and love for the alchemical process of beermaking. They’re not afraid to experiment with unorthodox flavour ingredients, like chili & mango, golden syrup and kumara. Yet the heart of their beermaking is solid, with head brewer Pete Gillespie experienced real ale and craft brewing in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Dinner: Wine and dine at one of these top restaurants
The Bresolin is the newest restaurant venture from Wellington food personalities Lorenzo and Leonardo Bresolin. The Bresolin occupies an Edwardian villa at the top of Willis Street. Focusing on shared dining, the Bresolin’s menu features small plates and large feasts, as well as wine and beer from all over New Zealand and the rest of the world.
Noble Rot is Wellington’s newest wine bar, founded by a group of talented sommeliers and restaurateurs who saw a need for a specialist wine bar in a city nestled between two of the country’s great wine regions. With an aim to excite, inform and educate everyone from wine experts to novices, Noble Rot has a raw bar and charcuterie to pair with your favourite drop.
Ortega Fish Shack & Bar serves fabulous food in a casual, relaxed atmosphere with great service. Focusing on fresh New Zealand seafood, the highly awarded chef and owner creates dishes of quality, flavour and integrity.
When legendary Wellington fine dining establishment the White House closed its doors in 2014, the restaurant’s many fans were not pleased. Thankfully, restaurateur Paul Hoather and his wife Louise soon opened Whitebait in the ultra-modern Clyde Quay Wharf development, and the city breathed a sigh of relief. This elegant and refined restaurant has a seafood-focused menu, which is also translated into Maori as a way to pay homage to the regional kai moana (seafood) used. Other local touches include stone aggregate floor from Wellington’s Red Rocks and oversized paua shell-shaped light fittings.
Shed 5 Restaurant and Bar
Shed 5 was built in 1888 as a woolshed. It is one of the oldest remaining wharf stores in Lambton Harbour. Situated right on Queens Wharf and only a few paces from the city centre, the historic wooden building has been painstakingly restored and now houses one of Wellington’s finest seafood restaurants. The menu changes seasonally and includes a huge daily selection of fresh seafood and fish. It also features meat and poultry dishes. The desserts not only look stunning but taste amazing. A wide range of both New Zealand and International wines and a large selection of local and imported beers are available in either the bar or the restaurant.
After dinner: Enjoy a post-dinner cocktail
The Library is a cosy vintage-style lounge bar, reading room, live music venue, tapas joint and dessert venue all in one. Enjoy fun and frivolous cocktails and a brand new snack and dessert menu in a warm and glamorous environment, well hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the city in the heart of Courtenay Place.
Based on a gentlemen’s retreat, the Hawthorn is an oasis from the hustle of downtown. Opened mid-2006 by brothers who wanted to share their vision of a public living room, The Hawthorn has all the grace one would expect from the 1920s. Big band music complements the nattily attired staff with their obscure range of spirits used to create many award winning cocktails.
C.G.R. (Coffee, Gin and Rum) is the latest spot on Courtenay Place. Owner Jonny McKenzie has created an experience that will have you instantly mellowing. Walk up the stairs and your ears will be greeted by some Afro-Cuban/Latin beats and a range of run and gin infusions – they specialise in making their own using a variety of herbs and spices.
A Wellington institution established in 1963, Matterhorn is found down one of Wellington’s more famous corridors. The bar prides itself on understated yet stylish surroundings, innovative menus and great service. Winner of numerous national awards, Matterhorn regularly receives international acclaim for its cocktails.